Repairs considered complete on breached canal, awaits return to service

Employees stand next to one of the many pieces of equipment that were required to restore the Gering/Fort Laramie and Goshen Irrigation District Canal. It was deemed ready for work as of Saturday, Aug. 10, following the tunnel collapse and canal breach that occurred early on July 17.

FORT LARAMIE, Wyo. — Ag producers along the interstate Goshen/Gering-Fort Laramie Irrigation Canal can breathe a bit easier. Repairs to the delivery system are in the final stages after a tunnel collapsed early on the morning of July 17. This caused water to back up until the pressure increased, forcing a breach in the 15-20 foot canal walls, before rushing across adjoining properties.

As of the afternoon of Saturday, Aug. 10, the canal is back in working condition, thanks to the efforts of dozens of individuals from numerous entities in the North Platte River Valley. Now, officials are just waiting for the tunnel to be returned to operation.

According to Russ Reisig, owner of Russell’s Excavation and Construction, which did the canal repair work, it took an army of people and dozens of pieces of equipment to complete the restoration.

“I want to thank the guys at the Gering/Fort Laramie and the Goshen Irrigation District for their excellent cooperation throughout the process,” Reisig said. “I can’t say enough about their efforts.”

Reisig was called the afternoon of July 18 to look at the situation, and was immediately hired by the two districts. He considers the job complete as of Aug. 10, although a few touch-up projects will be done as time allows and construction progress continues.

According to Reisig, five bulldozers, two road graders, two 20-yard scrapers, two excavators and three compactors were among the pieces of equipment that were kept running six days a week in order to get the canal back in shape. He said 40 dump truck loads of hardpan were applied to the canal floor so it could be driven on.

In addition to equipment and personnel from the two impacted districts, Farmer’s Irrigation District provided operators and a dozer and excavator, while Pathfinder ID provided two dozers and personnel.

“That’s how these districts work,” Reisig explained. “They all work together.”

Reisig also extended his thanks and appreciation to community members who have and who will undoubtedly continue to lend support to the districts and the farmers and ranchers who will be dealing with tremendous losses until this situation is resolved.

Among those are Brian Pugsley, head of the Wyoming water office in Torrington, for his efforts, as well as Hod Kosman of Platte Valley Bank, who made it possible to meet early payrolls for the small army of construction workers, Reisig said.

Ongoing repair efforts on the tunnel began on July 27, continuing around the clock in some instances. Following intense efforts to determine the best way to return the system to operation in time to salvage the 2019 crops, the decision was to clear and reinforce the tunnel that had collapsed, while at the same time restoring the canal.

The irrigation system, which serves approximately 104,000 acres in Goshen County, Wyoming, and in the Nebraska Panhandle, was built in 1917 as part of a larger U.S. Bureau of Reclamation project, which was anchored by Pathfinder Reservoir above Casper, Wyoming. Goshen County contains about 52,000 acres, while the remainder are in Scotts Bluff County.